Transformational Teaching and Adolescent Physical Activity

Transformational Teaching and Adolescent Physical Activity


Transformational Teaching


Transformational Teaching and Adolescent Physical Activity:

Multilevel and Mediational Effects.

Beauchamp, M. R., Liu, Y.,

The University of British Columbia

Morton, K. L.,

University of Cambridge

Martin, L. J.

University of Lethbridge

Wilson, A. H., Wilson, A. J., Sylvester, B. D., Zumbo, B. D.

The University of British Columbia

Barling, J.

Queen’s University

Submitted: November 15, 2012

Revision submitted: April 12, 2013

Second Revision: May 17, 2013

Author Note

Mark Beauchamp, Alex Wilson, Justine Wilson, and Ben Sylvester are with the School of Kinesiology, The University of British Columbia, Canada. Yan Liu and Bruno D. Zumbo are with the Faculty of Education, The University of British Columbia, Canada. Katie Morton is with the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, UK. Luc Martin is with the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Lethbridge, Canada. Julian Barling is with the School of Business, Queen’s University, Canada. This research was supported by a career investigator award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research as well as an operating grant from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada awarded to Mark Beauchamp. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Mark Beauchamp, School of Kinesiology, Psychology of Exercise Health and Physical Activity Lab, University of British Columbia, 210-6081 University Boulevard, Vancouver, V6T 1Z1, Canada. Tel: +1 (604) 822 4264 Fax: +1 (604) 822 5884. E-mail:


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the prospective relationship between adolescents’ perceptions of transformational leadership displayed by their school physical education teachers and their own physical activity behaviors, both with respect to within-class physical activity (WCPA) and also leisure-time physical activity (LTPA).

Methods: The study used a prospective observational design. Using multilevel structural equation modeling (MSEM) we examined the extent to which adolescents’ affective attitudes mediated the effects of teachers’ behaviors on adolescents’ physical activity responses. Two thousand nine hundred and forty eight adolescents (Mage = 14.33, SD = 1.00, Nfemale = 1641, 55.7%) from 133 Grade 8-10 classes in British Columbia (Canada) provided ratings of their physical education teachers’ behaviors mid-way through the school year. Two months later students completed measures of affective attitudes, WCPA, and LTPA.

Results: The results indicated that adolescents’ perceptions of transformational teaching explained significant variance in both WCPA and LTPA, and these effects were fully mediated by adolescents’ affective attitudes (total indirect effect: b = .581, p< .001).

Conclusions: The findings suggest that transformational leadership behaviors displayed by physical education teachers may be an important source of adolescent enjoyment of physical education, as well as health-enhancing physical activity involvement within school and outside of school.

Keywords: Transformational leadership, multilevel structural equation modeling, adolescents, affective attitudes, physical activity.

Transformational Teaching and Adolescent Physical Activity:

Multilevel and Mediational Effects.

There is now considerable evidence that regular participation in physical activity is associated with a diverse range of physical and psychological health benefits among children and adolescents (1), and that when youth are physically active, this is associated with longitudinal improvements in academic performance (2). In light of the diverse health benefits associated with physical activity for children and adolescents, the World Health Organization (3) published a set of physical activity guidelines for those between the ages of 5-17 years, indicating that youth should engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day. In North America the overwhelming majority of this population do not meet these recommendations, with more than 90% of adolescents from Canada and the United States estimated to be insufficiently active (4, 5).

In the context of this epidemiologic evidence a number of scholars have advocated the need for schools, and in particular school physical education, to take a prominent role in promoting physical activity within school hours and encouraging physical activity participation among children and adolescents during their own leisure time (6-8). In spite of the potential for school-based physical education to act as a prepotent context to promote long-term health-enhancing physical activity participation (9), much remains to be learned in terms of the mechanisms through which physical education might translate into active lifestyles among youth.

Transformational leadership theory (10-12) represents a theoretical framework that has recently been applied to understanding the effects of physical education teachers’ behaviors in relation to the motivational, affective, and behavioral responses of their students (13), and has considerable potential to shed light on these (psychological) mechanisms. Originally conceived within organizational and political contexts, transformational leadership is concerned with actions that transcend one’s own self-interests with the purpose of empowering, inspiring, and stimulating others to exceed minimally expected standards and achieve higher levels of functioning (12). In a range of occupational contexts (e.g., financial services, multinational project teams, military combat units, hospitals), displays of transformational leadership have been found to predict a wide range of adaptive responses among followers including elevated levels of job satisfaction, effort, achievement, and objective measures of performance (14, 15).

In the contexts of educational and health psychology, research evidence has accumulated in support of the predictive utility of physical education teachers’ transformational teaching behaviors (13) in relation to various health-enhancing outcomes among adolescents. As with transformational leadership (12), transformational teaching is comprised of four inter-related behavioral dimensions that include idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (12, 13, 16). Idealized influence takes place when teachers act as role models, articulate and embody their personally valued beliefs (i.e., doing what’s right because it’s the right thing to do), and engender the trust and respect of their students. Inspirational motivation involves conveying a compelling vision of what students are capable of achieving, as well as displaying optimism, enthusiasm, and communicating high expectations to students about what they can accomplish. Intellectual stimulation involves engaging the rationality of students and encouraging them to look at issues from different angles, and getting them to question commonly held assumptions. Lastly, individualized consideration takes place when teachers are sensitive to, and act with due concern for, students’ physical and psychological needs, and in so doing interact with students through a genuine sense of care and empathy.

Within the context of school-based physical education, transformational teaching behaviors have been found to be related to greater self-determined motivation and elevated affective responses among students towards physical education (17), as well as improved student psychological need satisfaction and engagement behaviors (18). Results of a randomized controlled feasibility trial also suggests that transformational teaching behaviors can be developed through intervention/training, which results in improvements among students in their self-efficacy beliefs, intrinsic motivation, and intentions to engage in leisure time physical activity (19). Although social cognitions such as self-efficacy (20), self-determined motivation (21), and intentions (22) have each been implicated in the prediction of physical activity behaviors in previous research, research has yet to examine the extent to which transformational teaching behaviors predict physical activity behaviors among adolescents, either with respect to within-class activities or leisure time activities. Thus, the overall purpose of this study was to examine the prospective relationships between adolescents’ perceptions of their respective physical education teachers’ transformational teaching, and their own physical activity behaviors in two (i.e., within-class and leisure-time) contexts.

In this study we were also interested in the extent to which students’ affective attitudes towards school physical education mediates the effects of transformational teaching behaviors in relation to both within-class (WCPA) and leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) behaviors. Affective attitudes correspond to how enjoyable (or unenjoyable) an activity is perceived to be (23, 24). Several contemporary models of physical activity incorporate affective judgments in one form or another (for an extended discussion see (25)). This is perhaps unsurprising given that across life contexts, the level of affect experienced in a given situation has been found to be a consistent predictor of the amount of time people choose to spend in that situation (26). In a recent meta-analytic review of studies involving adolescents, affective attitudes (as conceptualized across diverse theoretical perspectives) were found to consistently predict physical activity behaviors (25). Within the organizational psychology literature, transformational leadership behaviors are associated with improved affective responses (14), and previous research in educational settings has demonstrated that physical education teachers’ use of transformational leadership is significantly related to enjoyment of physical education among their students (17, 27). Thus, it was expected that transformational teaching behaviors by school physical education teachers would be related to improved physical activity behaviors among their students, and that students’ enjoyment (affective attitudes) of physical education classes would mediate that relationship.

Because WCPA behaviors are more proximal to the teacher’s behaviors than LTPA (which take place away from the school context), we further expected that the relationships between transformational teaching and WCPA would be stronger than the relations between transformational teaching and LTPA (13). Nevertheless, if transformational teaching behaviors do inspire adolescents to exceed minimally expected standards, as is posited by the tenets of transformational leadership theory (12), and foster interest in health-enhancing physical activity away from the school (9), one would also expect that these teaching behaviors would transcend school confines and predict physical activity behavior during student leisure time. When taken together, it was expected that transformational teaching behaviors by school physical education teachers would be related to elevated WCPA by adolescents and that adolescents’ enjoyment of physical education class (affective attitudes) would mediate that relationship. It was also expected that transformational teaching behaviors by physical education teachers would predict LTPA by students, and that adolescents’ enjoyment of school physical education (affective attitudes) would mediate that relationship. Thus, it was hypothesized that:

Hypothesis 1: Transformational teaching behaviors, as displayed by physical education teachers, will be related to higher levels of WCPA by adolescents, and that adolescent enjoyment of physical education will mediate those effects.

Hypothesis 2: Transformational teaching behaviors, as displayed by physical education teachers, will be related to higher levels of LTPA by adolescents, and that adolescent enjoyment of physical education will mediate those effects.



Two thousand nine hundred and forty eight students (Mage = 14.33, SD = 1.00, Nfemales = 1641, 55.7%) from 133 Grade 8-10 classes from six schools in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia (Canada) volunteered to participate in this study1,2. The average within-class size was ng = 22.17. Adolescents in this study represented a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds. We delimited our study to Grade 8-10 students for the reason that, in British Columbia, physical education classes were mandatory for students in these grades and as such it was anticipated that a range of physical activity-related cognitions and behaviors would be observed. It is also around this age (i.e., in the mid-teens) that notable declines in physical activity occur (28). We followed procedures used by Statistics Canada (29) in their 2001 Census and allowed participants to identify all ethnic and/or cultural groups with which they self-identified (i.e., students could identify with more than one ethnic group). The largest represented ethnic groups were Canadian (57.8%), Chinese (54.1%), East Indian (9.8%), Filipino (7.8%), British (7.4%), Vietnamese (5.6%), and Irish (5.2%). Eighteen other ethnic groups were identified with a frequency of less than 5%. Most participants (61.9%) were born in Canada, 18.6% were born in China, and 83 other countries were identified as a place of birth with a frequency of less than 5%. In sum, our sample was representative of the racial composition of this area of Canada (29).


Transformational Teaching. Adolescents’ perceptions of their teachers’ behaviors were measured using the 16-item Transformational Teaching Questionnaire (TTQ) developed by Beauchamp et al. (17). This instrument was developed specifically for use with adolescents in school-based physical education contexts, and contains separate subscales designed to assess the four dimensions of transformational teaching, with four items per subscale. Within the TTQ items are prefixed with the stem “My physical education teacher…” and includes items such as “acts as a person I look up to” (idealized influence), “is optimistic about what I can accomplish” (inspirational motivation), “encourages me to look at issues from different sides” (intellectual stimulation), and “tries to help students who might be struggling” (individualized consideration). Responses were provided on a five-point rating scale with anchors ranging from 0 (not at all) to 4 (frequently). In their instrument development work, Beauchamp et al. (17) provided evidence for the factorial validity of measures derived from the TTQ. Specifically, through use of multilevel confirmatory factor analyses, Beauchamp et al. (17) provided evidence for a second-order measurement model with the four transformational teaching dimensions contributing towards a higher order latent dimension of transformational teaching. In the present study, scores derived from each of the four subscales were found to be internally consistent with an ordinal coefficient alpha (30) of ≥ .83.

Adolescent Affective Attitudes. Adolescents’ affective attitudes towards physical education were assessed using the interest/enjoyment subscale of the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI; 31). This instrument includes five items that are anchored on a 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) Likert-type scale. As with previous research in physical education, items were prefixed by the stem “In this PE class I feel….” and included items such as “I enjoy PE very much”, “While I’m in PE I am thinking about how much I am enjoying it”, and “PE is fun”. Consistent evidence has accumulated in support of the reliability and construct validity of measures derived from the interest/enjoyment subscale of the IMI within physical education settings (32, 33). In the current study the interest/enjoyment measure displayed an acceptable level of internal consistency (ordinal coefficient alpha = .89).

Adolescent Physical Activity Behaviors. Adolescent physical activity behaviors were assessed using the Physical Activity Questionnaire for Adolescents (PAQ-A) developed by Kowalski, Crocker, and Kowalski (34). The PAQ-A is a self-administered 7-day recall questionnaire that measures moderate-to-vigorous physical activity during the school year. In a recent review of 89 self-report physical activity instruments, Biddle, Gorely, Pearson, and Bull (35) identified the PAQ-A as being one of three instruments that are particularly suitable for use with adolescents in population-level surveillance research, tracking physical activity trends over time. Measures derived from this instrument have been found to demonstrate sound reliability as well as convergent validity in relation to objective measures of physical activity (34, 36). In this study, we used separate indicators within the PAQ-A to assess physical activity expenditure (a) during physical education classes, (b) right after school, (c) during evenings, and (d) on the previous weekend. Adolescents’ responses to each of these items were anchored on 5-point scales. Within-class Physical Activity (WCPA) was assessed with the one-item measure “in the last 7-days, during your physical education classes, how often were you very active (playing hard, running, jumping, throwing)”. The ‘right after-school’, ‘evening’, and ‘weekend’ measures were combined to form a composite measure of Leisure Time Physical Activity (LTPA) that was found to be internally consistent (ordinal alpha = .85).


Ethical approval was obtained from the lead author’s Behavioral Research Ethics Board along with school board approval. Students and their parents received a letter informing them of the overall purpose of the study and inviting them to participate. Passive consent was obtained from parents, who were provided the opportunity to opt their child out of the study, and active informed consent was provided by adolescents. Data collection initially took place mid-way through the school year (Time 1 Assessment: January) in order to ensure that students had a sufficient frame of reference with which to assess their teachers’ behaviors, and also to minimize any honeymoon biases that may occur as a result of students appraising their ‘new’ teachers at the beginning of the school year (37, 38). At this point, students completed demographic measures and ratings of their teachers’ behaviors. Two months later (Time 2: March) students completed measures related to their affective attitudes and physical activity behaviors.

Data Analysis

A missing value analysis was conducted using SPSS 19.0 and revealed to be significant, Little’s chi square test,(192) = 277.39, p < .001. Specifically, on the basis of those participants that provided data at Time 1 (T1), there were missing data for between 20.3% and 21.8% of the Time 2 (T2) study variables (i.e., complete data were provided at both time-points for between 78.2 and 79.7 of adolescents). Further inspection of the data revealed that a greater proportion of boys did not provide data at T2 (24-25.2%) relative to girls (16.4-18.2%) on the study variables. In addition, for all outcome variables (WCPA and LTPA) and the mediator (affective attitudes), adolescents who did not provide data at T2 were found to report lower scores on the four dimensions of transformational teaching with the resulting t-tests ranging from 3.085 to 6.165. However, the effect sizes for all the mean differences were small (Cohen’s d ranged from .148 to .318). In the subsequent path analysis, we included adolescent sex as a covariate (39), and four dimensions of transformational teaching as predictors.

In light of the fact that the data were nested (students within classes) we examined the prospective relations between adolescents’ perceptions of transformational teaching, their affective attitudes, and physical activity behaviors through a multilevel modeling framework. Specifically, Preacher, Zyphur and Zhang (40) recently developed an approach for assessing multilevel mediation through multilevel structural equation modeling (MSEM). Through this approach, researchers are able to simultaneously estimate a number of mediational relationships and provide inferential tests of overall model fit. In addition, this approach can handle nested data while also reducing bias in parameter estimates; in so doing, it is possible to investigate mediation at both the individual and group levels through use of a latent variable decomposition framework.